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Spread the news: Homegrown fertilizer production helps us allSpread the news: Homegrown fertilizer production helps us all

What’s Your Story? The movement toward homegrown self-sufficiency makes this an ideal time to get consumers onboard with domestic fertilizer production, but farmers need to fill the information gap.

Owen Roberts

March 21, 2023

2 Min Read
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The effort to enhance domestic fertilizer production capacity is growing like a weed. But it needs farmers to explain why this initiative is a good investment in U.S. agriculture and food security.

In March, at the Commodity Classic in Florida, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced his department was deluged with applications for a new grant program to beef up domestic fertilizer production.

The USDA, he said, received $3 billion in applications from more than 350 independent businesses from 47 states and two territories.

Even people who don’t know much about the fertilizer business understand those kinds of numbers. In any field, agriculture included, greater domestic production can mean more independent local businesses, jobs and fair prices, Vilsack said.

It can mean more stable food prices for consumers, too. And somewhere, that point has been missed, even though escalating food costs are among consumers’ most burning issues.

Through social media channels, farmers can help fill that information gap. Farmers can tell stories about the connection between lower input costs for the likes of fertilizer and lower food costs. Get back to basics by explaining how and why you use industrially produced fertilizer in the first place.

The timing is perfect. Using video, you could even show what fertilizer applications look like, and the safety measures you take for yourself, for consumers and for the environment.

Unlike many inputs, people have an intrinsic understanding about fertilizer. After all, they use it in their gardens and on their house plants. That means they might empathize about your need to use it, too.

And that opens the door for sharing information. Last month, two of my agricultural communications students led a discussion about fertilizer in a class meeting, explaining the ins and outs to their classmates, about half of whom are from urban settings.

The students, Bailey Worner and Luke Goldberg, noted how synthetic fertilizer costs can comprise 20% of producers’ input costs. They explained how fertilizer prices have jumped 300% since the beginning of 2021. And they noted some raw materials for fertilizer used domestically often come from foreign sources, including Russia.

People get this when it’s explained to them. No one wants to be held ransom in their own country by foreign sources. The connection to food security is clear.

Rallying public support, especially during a farm bill year, is a winner. The movement toward greater self-sufficiency, in general, through homegrown production makes this an ideal time to get consumers onside, and better understand agriculture’s story.

Roberts teaches agricultural communications and journalism at the University of Illinois. Email questions to him at [email protected].

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